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Nik Stauskas 2.0

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Nik Stauskas probably doesn’t care.

Mercifully, the 23-year-old Canadian has learned to channel his energy to matters that only he can control.

Stauskas, whose notoriety can be attributed to equal parts being a lottery pick from Mississauga and the owner of a nickname Sauce Castillo sparked by a closed captioning faux pas, is yet to nestle into NBA normalcy.

Nothing quite screams eccentric like having your entry into the league overshadowed by an ill-fated draft day publicity stunt, inking an endorsement deal with Musashi Foods, or being sewn to a lopsided salary dump with little more than 1,100 regular season minutes under your belt.

It’s all gravy for someone who might finally be en route to a stable situation, albeit not how he might have imagined.

Routinely mocked and banished to the corner with dunce caps by talking heads, the Philadelphia 76ers find themselves in an awkward transitional phase — migrating from one regime to another, with a clunky roster to boot.

The organization’s stubborn pursuit of top-end talent has lumped head coach Brett Brown with the duty of mining in a dark cave clogged by a group of players whose collective ceiling hovers somewhere near ‘rotational NBA guy’.

In four seasons, no fewer than 60 different players — of which exactly half are no longer in the league — have received floor time with Brown’s Sixers.

“We keep it real. We work hard,” Brown told reporters, at the tail end of an especially exhausting first year on the job. “I think the people coming in see the environment we’re trying to build, the culture we’re trying to create, and so they’re compliant.”

Brown, of course, has at no point been under any illusions as to what he signed up for.

“We move along with the group. I think that is true, in regard to a revolving-type of door, but it was always going to be part of our plan when we’re trying to identify people and trying to pick a few that can continue on with us.”

Zeroing in on precisely who might fit into that “few” welcomed into the long-term picture has been a fun game for those who fancy themselves as armchair scouts.

Eight weeks ago, many had pigeonholed Stauskas as a failed experiment more likely to join the club of Sixers castaways than to emerge as a nightly contributor.

Kudos must go to the sharpshooting Canuck for turning it around. Stauskas’ strong November has already earned him a public apology (of sorts) from Sixers diehards, and a novelty tee to match.

He is doing plenty more than piling up hollow counting stats, too.

Stauskas steered clear of the training camp guillotine when the Sixers elected to pick up the fourth-year option on his rookie contract on October 26.

To validate management’s low-risk investment in him, he had to at least show the nous to be more than a spotty, standstill shooter.

Sauce had 35 starts — including 13 straight in Philly’s winless November — in an otherwise pedestrian 2015-16, often chastised for hoisting up jumpers and struggling to recapture his collegiate stroke.

But it’s a run that had to have weighed on his mind in recent weeks as he observed restless crowds prey on teammate Robert Covington’s perimeter woes.

Covington drifted uncomfortably, given a lifeline by the coaching mantra, “shooters shoot.”

“I’m going to back the fact that shooters shoot and [Covington’s] time is not far away and that he is playing good defense and he does know what we’re doing,” said Brett Brown.

That’s kind of where it’s at for this team. Maybe it doesn’t mesh with any other script in the league, but for Stauskas, Covington, and others on the Sixers’ roster, November, December, and January minutes are equally as important as the backend of the schedule.

Filling the wings on a team whose identity is finally beginning to materialize, Stauskas’ developmental path feels more linear than ever before.

At the quarter mark of the season, averages of 13.7 points and 3.6 rebounds per 36 minutes are what catch your eye.

By almost any measure, Stauskas is unshackled and nudging the upper echelons — offensively.

He is taking his shots almost exclusively at the rim and beyond the arc, with only 17 per cent of his attempts emerging in the abyss in between, per Basketball-Reference.

That deliberate shot selection and a renewed willingness to get out on the break and look to finish is the formula behind his true shooting numbers (61.8 per cent).

Truth be told, those figures would likely be even more impressive, had he not been saddled with an abnormal number of late-clock heaves, courtesy of Philadelphia’s shabby offensive execution.

Bracing for a regression is a perfectly fine position to take when analyzing this production. The patterns of play are what leave more room for encouragement, though.

Ranking in the 81st percentile (according to Synergy Sports data) on catch-and-shoot looks is very welcome but hardly earth shattering for a guy of Stauskas’ reputation.

A steady free-throw attempt rate, converting at 1.171 points per possession around the basket in the half court, and a concerted effort to attack have supplemented his usual habits.

Spending time strictly in an off-ball role has brought with it the freedom to focus on what’s clicking, currently. Without the polish to persist as a secondary playmaker — only setting up teammates on roughly 10 per cent of possessions — it’s best for Brett Brown’s staff to keep the broad confines of their pickpocketed former lottery selection in place.

Ultimately, the manila folder on Nik Stauskas is making for enjoyable reading.

There’s a desperate need for him to curb unforced errors and sketchy passing decisions, and plenty of room for Stauskas to learn to utilize his frame in both individual and team defensive concepts, but the progress is there.

If and when things waver deeper into the season, he’ll need no reminding of how unsettling life in basketball purgatory can be.

The evidence, however, is starting to tilt in his favor.

514 minutes of offensive output is nice and has the bones of a cautionary tale on team-building and prevailing belief in talent.

Should something deeper and more sustained surface, then there just might be a marketplace for Sauce, after all.

A native of Melbourne, Australia, Angus’ work as a basketball scribe has taken him everywhere from the bowels of the ACC, to Summer League stoushes, to Steve Nash’s Showdown in Chinatown, to the FIBA Oceania Championships, and beyond. His words have previously appeared on ESPN’s TrueHoop network blogs, The Cauldron, Sportsnet, and NBA.com/Australia, among others. A self-described ‘adopted Canadian’, Angus also has a soft spot for Brett Brown’s bizarre Bostonian-Australian accent, and all things Dražen Petrović.

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Editorial

Something Out of Nothing

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It’s March 2016, and I’m driving with Alan Shane Lewis to Montreal to meet with Marc Griffin and Phil Boileau. We’re meeting to speak about this exciting new idea I pitched to them. We were tired of spinning the wheels on our own individual internet shows, and I told them that it was time we stopped waiting for a network and became the network.

We spoke that weekend about creating a community of content creators that all loved ball and came together to make unique content with unique voices – voices we felt were never heard in the mainstream. This community was the base of Press and we’d continue to push forward from that spot. We spoke about some amazing show ideas, article ideas, social media plan. It was truly an exciting time, and still one of the best weekends of my life.

Two years later and that group is a lot smaller, and that idea is Press Basketball.

It caught fire at the beginning and we had people joining our bright shiny new plaything left, right, and center. It was exciting, but now I kind of realize that a lot of it was just that we were that “bright shiny new thing”.

We ended up with a lot of Press Basketball “members” but when I stepped back and looked at what was happening… it wasn’t what I’d imagined. The fire burned out. The idea was gone. We had just become another thing trying to stay alive, waiting for some deus ex machina to show up with money and make everything okay.

I’ve gone through most of my life making something out of nothing. It’s never easy, but when it happens it’s always worth it… ALWAYS. Press made me feel alive at a point. It was literally all I could think about, and while it still is on my mind, it doesn’t make me feel alive. This hurts more than I can ever explain.

Changes are coming my friends. We’re not laying down and dying, and if we do it’s not going to be like this.

The core of Press will be setting fire to a lot over the next few weeks and I personally can’t wait for this to start. From the ashes something new will rise (I watched a lot of XMEN growing up).

Stay tuned, because it’s not over.

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Lonzo Ball: The New Face of the Lakers

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Lonzo Ball is the new face of the Los Angeles Lakers franchise. The new savior. The Big Baller Brand is now here to stay and LaVar Ball’s family’s future is set. But is that enough?

Lonzo Ball is a great kid and athlete who knows his talent will take him to another level. The major question mark that remains is whether or not he will take the Lakers there as well. He has the platform and skillset to do so, but with that comes the added pressure from the city and league to basically become part of the next version of Kobe and Shaq. It’s too strainful for a young kid—a rookie—to achieve.  

Magic Johnson, the recently named President of Basketball of Operations for the Lakers, is taking an aggressive approach to get this team back into playoff contention his first year in. One of his first moves was sending D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets for Brook Lopez and the 27th overall pick. Brook Lopez is definitely an upgrade at center, but has a couple of years already under his belt.   

Lopez will provide a much needed veteran presence with a great IQ for the game at his position. The only downfall is that a couple of years under his belt doesn’t really transfer to great experience, but simply wasted miles on his body. He isn’t as quick as he used to be and doesn’t even rank in the top 10 centers in the league. In fact, Bleacher Report had him last season at exactly 15 out of the top 30 centers in the NBA. While he is has improved by adding the three-point range to his arsenal, there is no doubt that he is nearly past his prime, and although he can still contribute on a nightly basis, who knows how much and what effect it will have with Lonzo Ball running the point.  

Ball has great court vision that has been often compared to that of LeBron James. Combined with his passing skills, he is a true PG with tremendous upside in the backcourt. With that being said, he will only reach a certain extent. His full potential is years from being maximized and people are buying into it early on. In fact, the pressure for him to lift a sub .500 team to the playoffs for the first time in five years is daunting. 

These are Lonzo Ball’s stats during his rookie—and only—year at UCLA: 

  • 14.6 Points
  • 7.6 Assists
  • 6.0  Rebounds
  • 1.8 Steals
  • 0.8 Blocks
  • 55.1 FG%
  • 41.2 3P%

He did a tremendous job maintaining that statline and even added a triple-double in the NBA Summer League, earning him the Summer League MVP.  

Don’t get me wrong, Ball seems ready for the challenge and is definitely a one-of-a-kind talent mirroring that of Steve Nash and Jason Kidd, but he is not an All-Star or MVP—at least, not yet. These way-too-early predictions that he is the Lakers’ new savior are farfetched. He has yet to face the elite NBA offensive threats and superstars that have been at it for 10-plus years. Defensively speaking he will not be able to keep up. Not in his first year. He still needs NBA experience and a more rounded roster to be able to reach the playoffs.  

He is off to a good start, but being named NBA Summer League MVP doesn’t necessarily mean a spectacular season is coming as some think it does. Especially if you consider the previous Summer League MVP winners.

Year Nat. Player Pos. Team
2012 Damian Lillard (co-MVPs) PG Portland Trail Blazers
Josh Selby (co-MVPs) PG Memphis Grizzlies
2013 Jonas Valančiūnas C Toronto Raptors
2014 Glen Rice Jr. SG Washington Wizards
2015 Kyle Anderson SF San Antonio Spurs
2016 Tyus Jones PG Minnesota Timberwolves
2017 Lonzo Ball PG Los Angeles Lakers

With the exceptions of Damian Lillard in 2012 and Jonas Valanciunas in 2013, the past five Summer League MVP winners have gone on to produce very mediocre NBA careers. All I’m saying is, don’t read too much into NBA Summer League. It’s the pre-preseason that no one really watches or cares about.  

The NBA season is nearing—exactly a month away—and my somewhat harsh criticism of Lonzo Ball isn’t too cruel. I am just not ready to jump on the Ball bandwagon following LaVar’s prophecies of his son being the Lakers prodigal son. He won’t be. Again, at least not yet. He needs to earn his spot and the transition will surprise him his first year in. It will hit him hard, but, despite my concerns, eventually Lonzo Ball will become a future NBA All-Star and a daring NBA point guard.  

Not yet though, and until then all we can do is prepare for his official NBA debut. Until then, we can enjoy and bask in his newly released rap single paying tribute to his little brother LaMelo Ball.  

If the NBA doesn’t end up being his calling in life, at least he has a back up career in mind.

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MELO-dy Cool

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Carmelo Anthony has been traded away from the New York Knickerbockers to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

You probably knew this before you laid eyes on these words.

It honestly doesn’t matter much who the Thunder traded away for “Melo” and who the Knicks received, because they weren’t anywhere near Melo’s overall value. But, it matters that Melo himself is gone and away from New York City, and for all his accolades, he honestly had a major part to play in his exodus.

Melo altogether is a player that both outplayed and underplayed his own potential. No one that saw him at Oak Hill Academy as a high schooler could for-sure say that he’d be a superstar, and everyone that saw him at Syracuse University might say he was a can’t-miss by then.

And he didn’t miss on most of what he’s teased, he’s delivered in a lot of ways; but, the reason why he didn’t work out in New York was because he was selfish to a fault in the key places that required compromise.

Do you remember how he got to Kings County in the first place? He forced a trade to the Knicks from his then-Denver Nuggets, a team that was teasing with talent abundant, but not unlike today, stuck in the mighty Western Conference. With title contenders like the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers at that time of the NBA, the 2010–2011 season, the Nuggets just weren’t going to make the noise they wanted to make. Melo was a free agent-to-be at the completion of that season, and it was likely that he’d leave. His time with the Nuggets, a very successful time, had run its course. The change was coming, and he was catalyst to the change he wanted to see in his world. Nothing wrong with that.

The problem was that Melo didn’t want to wait for New York. He wanted New York then and there, and it didn’t matter how it was going to happen.

It didn’t matter that the Knicks weren’t in a position to compete for a title during that season, something he long wanted to bring to New York upon his eventual arrival.

It didn’t matter that the Knicks would have to gut their team’s best assets in a trade for the Brooklyn-born, Baltimore-raised native. It didn’t matter that if he waited until the season was over, he could be playing with a young and promising Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov (a revelation upon his arrival to the States from Russia), amongst others.

It didn’t matter that the Knicks would have to sacrifice draft picks for him, instead of keeping them upon signing later.

It didn’t matter to Melo.

And so, when he arrived in New York, in early 2011, he received the adulation and praise of a prodigal son. Sure, the team lost some valuable talent and depth, but surely Melo would will the Knicks into wild success — just like he did in Denver, right?

And sure enough, after he rebuked the Linsanity of 2012 when Jeremy Lin became an overnight NBA superstar and balked at the prospect of Lin’s resigning, he gained some success.

The 2012–2013 season saw Melo as the closest thing to being an MVP candidate that anyone had ever seen from him as a professional in an 82-game season, but not before being totally indifferent to former head coach Mike D’Antoni’s wishes for him to play more at power forward to stretch the offensive side of the ball for the Knicks and the defenses of the opposing league teams. D’Antoni quit before the end of the 2011–2012 season, because of Melo’s loathsome resistance to D’Antoni and the coach’s embrace of Lin.

A big aspect of Melo’s failure to bring glory to Manhattan was his resistance to doing what has made him a legend in USA Basketball. Having won multiple gold medals as a stretch-four shooter, that he refused to embrace that positioning as an NBA pro limited the ability of his teams to win.

As a four, Melo, who had gained grown-man weight from natural maturity and strength and conditioning, didn’t have to be the cavity in his team’s defense as he struggled as a man-to-man defender. Moving from his formerly-natural small forward slot could allow him to defend more ably and allow someone more fleet of foot to stop the dominant wings that Melo often matched up against. Becoming something different and better in a new place would’ve allowed him the opportunity to be greater than anyone had known him to be in an NBA uniform.

But, he refused and rebuked such a change.

And one last thing: Injuries and front office politics aside, Melo was loyal to the Knicks organization through and through. But, he had a choice to go.

So, to recap, Melo forced a trade to New York that gutted the talent of the roster, and then he refused to change to a position that would behoove him and the team in the journey to championship gain.

Well, he also had a chance to leave for greener pastures and become a Chicago Bull, where he could experience more success with a front office committed to his development and surrounding talent. He didn’t want to do that, and that’s fair. New York was home, but if he was going to win in New York, seeing as to how being the way that he’d always been wasn’t helping — that is shoot-first, ask questions and defend later — why return to The Big Apple if you aren’t going to change?

He saw what being a score-only wing was giving his teams — it gave his teams very little success for the vast majority of 14 years. Sure, his Nuggets and Knicks made the playoffs (not so much New York) much of the time, but he said he wasn’t playing for that.

In the end, Melo and the Knicks not working out could be seen before he even became a Knick, when Melo stomped his way out of Denver to play immediately for New York when it would’ve behooved him to stay put for two more months.

Championship or bust, they say.

He couldn’t really compromise too well for the chip, it appears.

In the end, Carmelo Anthony — despite years of league-leading jersey sales, runway appearances, and bright lights on the New York City streets with LaLa — was a big, fat, shining, New York bust.

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